Art creates commentary and speaks more than history ever can. One such commentary about the struggles of women artists is revealed as we understand. In the middle ages, the only appearance women ever made in the industry of art was in the form of portraits, like the Sandro Botticelli’s ‘Birth of Venus’ which was painted in the mid-1480s.Though we still can’t be sure of whether the idea of painting portraits of women in the middle ages was even original. The first caricatures and clay models of women draw their links to the timelines of Harappa and Mohenjodaro, then in Indian temples, following in the books like Kamasutra. Parallelly, falling back to the western scenario, it’s during the Roman empire that we actually see women emerging as strong inspiration for artists. And by the time we reached the end of the Renaissance period i.e; 1600 CE, women as artists were all over the limelight for their exceptional sense of art.
Art history, among other disciplines as well, has left a large number of women out of their canon simply because they are women. In the late 1950s, Margaret Keane, a female artist who is famous for her paintings of subjects with big eyes was kept behind the curtains for a long time. Walter Keane, her husband, plagiarized her paintings and introduced his wife’s work as his own to the world. It’s sad how a husband himself couldn’t stand his wife’s success. Beginning of the 1960s made the world realise how art is perceived and evaluated according to gender. No doubt why the Feminist Art movement lasted a decade. But the question lies in this quest is about whether or not things have changed for women artists globally.
In the October of 2018, Jenny Saville earned the title of being the most expensive female artist for her superlative self-portrait ‘Propped’ that shatters canonised representations of female beauty. But by the end of the auction at Sotheby’s, all the attention was diverted by Banksy’s ‘Girl with a balloon’ as it was shredded live in the auction right after it was sold. Somehow, only half of the painting was shredded and now the half shredded painting is worth more than it used to. Many choose to believe that this stunt pulled by Banksy was symbolic of his comments on capitalism but let’s not forget how Saville’s painting was nothing more than a historical footnote by the end of the day.It could be true that the stunt by Banksy at Sotheby’s could actually be symbolic to any of his thoughts but what caught our attention here is how Jenny Saville’s achievement was not covered over different news channels as it was supposed to. Can we even really blame the shredding of the ‘Girl with a balloon’ for diverting it’s attention from Saville’s story? Or was it the media’s ignorance? The fact that men never missed upon their chances to steal limelight or overshine their work is no more a secret. Sadly, we don’t even know how many stories like Keane’s and Saville’s are still a secret to the world.
Today, female artists contribute only 2 percent of the market. Feminist activist group like Guerilla Girls exist today because things never really changed during the 1970s’ Feminist Art movement or even during Renaissance, or maybe they just fell back in place as they use to be. It’s true that very few female artists exist in the market and the research published about them is even lesser but another factor that functions behind the differences is : Bias, not only in terms of exposure but even for the prices of their work. We see drastic price differences between the work of female artists and male artists especially in the countries which are facing higher gender inequality issues.
Yet all is not lost. It might take some time but the global market is already building it’s understanding of how there is no “female art” to exist but rather knowing that art, in general, shapes the world and is shaped by culture. We as artists, as audience or even as mere admirers of art need to support art for what it is and not because whose is it or where does it come from. Support originality and stand against exploitation in any form. And if there’s just art, let it exist.